The EU is expected to adopt the Food Standard Agency’s (FSA’s) target of 90% of carcasses carrying fewer than 1,000 colony forming units of campylobacter per gram (cfu/g), Bernard Matthews group technical director Jeremy Hall said.
Current EU draft legislation includes the FSA target, along with the additional food safety criterion that no meat should carry more than 10,000cfu/g.
Hall is known for his work in finding ways of reducing levels of the bacteria in poultry, pioneering a technique known as rapid surface chilling (RSC). RSC works by blast-freezing the surface of poultry using vapour delivered at -196°C.
He was recognised for his efforts by winning the Personality of the Year Award at last year’s Food Manufacture Excellence Awards.
Campylobacter is responsible for more than 100 deaths and 280,000 cases of food poisoning in the UK each year, according to the FSA.
Hall said: “EU legislation looks like it’s going to become law in August. I think it’s going to force everybody in the industry to rethink how we might meet those standards, which is going to be quite tricky.”
“RSC is still the only technique that can guarantee at least a 95% reduction in campylobacter levels. We’ve done work with the FSA on chemical surface treatments, and they either give limited success or change the colour of the skin.
“I don’t think consumers really want to buy fresh meat that’s been dipped or sprayed in chemicals.”
12,000 birds an hour
Hall explained that gas supplier BOC – part of the German Linde Group – which has partnered on the development of RSC, is in the final stages of deciding where the first 12,000 birds an hour dedicated RSC site will be.
“The site will either be in the UK, or on the continent. It won’t be at a Bernard Matthews site though, as we hand-eviscerate our poultry.
“I would hope that once the EU law is in place, RSC will start to be adopted very quickly.”
According to Hall, the latest quarterly FSA figures on campylobacter levels on shop-bought chickens released after Food Manufacture went to press would show “some reductions”, mostly in-line with seasonal variations.
Last month, Tesco revealed it was on course to remove campylobacter ‘at the highest level’ in at least 95% of chickens sold in its stores by 2017.
In January, it was revealed the FSA had begun discussions with both chicken processors and retailers on how they might disclose campylobacter test results data publicly. It is believed to be part of a wider FSA plan to transfer costs surrounding food safety on to food businesses.
Read our Big Interview feature with Matthews learn the key messages he has learned during his 40 years in the poultry industry.
Big Video Debate on campylobacter at Foodex
The Food Manufacture Group is staging a Big Video Debate on campylobacter at the Foodex trade event on Monday April 18, between 11.00 and 12.30.
Taking part in the panel discussion – Combatting campylobacter: the path ahead – will be a range of industry experts. Confirmed speakers include:
• Jeremy Hall, group technical director Bernard Matthews
• Rod Addy, editor Meat Trades Journal
For more information, email Mike Stones.
Meanwhile, Foodex 2016 – the premier trade event for the food and drink processing, packaging, ingredients and logistics industries – will take place at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, between April 18–20.